By Tom Kington in Rome
With two comeback goals from Simone Inzaghi, S.S. Lazio spared their blushes to record a 2-2 home draw against a lively AC Sparta Praha in their UEFA Champions League Group G fixture, but only after suffering a Czech onslaught that showed the visitors were not prepared to play the role of underdogs.
After Lazio made the early running, Karel Poborský made life misery for his former club by setting up Libor Sionko for Sparta's first and scoring himself before the interval, only for Inzaghi to slot home after the restart and add a second with a penalty.
Lazio made an energetic start to the first half, with Inzaghi proving a handful in the area, Stefano Fiore forcing the game on the left flank and Sinisa Mihajlovic firing in a stream of dangerous corners. Jaap Stam came close with a headed effort from one such inswinger, before Massimo Oddo moved up from the left to join the fray, with a searching diagonal ball into the area that Inzaghi could only head wide.
With Oddo continuing the supply from the right, Bernardo Corradi's knock-down on 13 minutes nearly found Inzaghi, but Sparta were not content to sit back, with Lukáš Zelenka and Sionko starting to put neat midfield passes together to dampen the Lazio onslaught. Their interchanges brought whistles from the home support, although they failed to link with lone front man Marek Kincl.
With the pace of play slowing after the initial exchanges, Zelenka finally found Kincl in the 21st minute only to see the attacker shoot wide. But Lazio still appeared to have the upper hand, until a previously quiet Poborský popped up in midfield in the 27th minute to create Sparta’s first goal. With Giuseppe Favalli motionless, an unattended Sionko got a shin to Poborský’s high, defence-splitting pass to leave Lazio goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi stranded.
With the home side in shock, Zelenka and Sionko stepped up the deft passing movements in midfield, feeding a resurgent Poborský, who sidestepped two defenders before shooting wide. With Lazio losing their poise and aggression, a scramble in the home penalty area in the 35th minute led by Radoslav Kovác left Peruzzi sprawled and an open goal tap-in for ex-Lazio star Poborský.
After what must have been harsh words from coach Roberto Mancini at half-time, Lazio did not waste time in bringing the game back to life, Inzaghi holding off challenges in the area to bring down a long ball from Stam and beat goalkeeper Blazek from close range.
With the hosts in the ascendancy again, Mihajlovic brought a smart save from Blazek with a stinging long-range shot. The pressure continued and Inzaghi was judged to have been brought down in the area by Petr Johana. He then stepped up to score his second goal of the night from the penalty spot on 61 minutes.
As Sparta again sought to find their passing rhythm, Roberto Muzzi - on for a quiet Demetrio Albertini - went close with a header before Poborský tested Peruzzi with a low shot after winning a one-on-one with Stam.
Lazio slow pace
Lazio slowed the pace again, but Fiore tested Blazek again on 67 and 69 minutes before Inzaghi fed Muzzi in the 76th minute, only for his shot on the run blocked by Johana. As the final whistle approached, Inzaghi was brought off to applause after securing his second two-goal haul against the Czech side in the Champions League.